For almost Aleja Stephenson entire life, people she should have been able to trust were the ones who let her down the hardest, who hurt her the most.
She was born to a teen mother who was addicted to drugs and had been incarcerated — and who then left.
Though Stephenson was soon adopted, life with her adopted family was hard. She said she felt as if she was never fully accepted, and she sometimes felt afraid. As a teenager, she said she was abused by a stranger when living with extended family members for a short time.
But Stephenson, 21, has long been her own strongest advocate. After her adoptive parents gave her up at 15, and her option was moving in with a different extended family in Southern California, she chose instead to walk herself to a social services office and re-enter the foster system.